Sunday, 2 August 2015

Imogen’s Book of the Week: The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day, illustrated by Aaron Blecha, published by Red Fox (Random House)

Today’s Sunday Best is a warm-hearted, adventurous, contemporary tale of family, fears, growing up, and facing both the future and the past.

The Secrets of Sam and Sam

Susie Day’s popular Pea series, starring Clover, Tinkerbell and the eponymous Pea, has featured their neighbours, the Paget-Skidelskys, from the outset: Mum Gen, Mum K and their boy-and-girl twins Sam and Sam, with the recent addition of a puppy called Surprise. In Day’s new book, though, the Sams get their own starring role - and it’s a corker.

Pea's Book of Best Friends

Sam and Sam have always had the same haircuts, the same outfits, and the same name. But now, at eleven, the newly-declared Sammie wants to grow her hair, and assert herself as – self-evidently – the best twin. Sam, meanwhile, resents his relegation to the role of sensible sidekick. Both of them have school trials to face, too, before they say goodbye to Orchid Lane Primary for good. Sammie has a best friend vacancy that obstinately refuses to be filled, and Sam absolutely cannot go on the residential to Treetops, paralysed by his fear of heights - and of the supervising teacher, mean Mrs McMin.  But their mums don’t take their worries seriously, despite being child psychologists. And they seem to be keeping some kind of secret...

Characteristically warm, subtle, and funny, with some lump-in-throat moments of pure, poignant sorrow, Day’s exploration of identity, fear, and the very first toe-dip into uncharted adolescence makes this an understatedly special story. The family set-up is handled with a realistic lightness of touch – having two mums is par for the course for the Sams and their pals, although it excites comment from the slightly spiteful new girl Emily. And the twins, as ever, are deliciously different: boy Sam is gentle, kind, and prone to over-thinking, while girl Sam is rambunctious, bold and given to leaping before she looks. But both of them remain hummus-averse, hilarious, and immensely appealing – and Aaron Blecha’s funny, comic-style line drawings perfectly evoke both their wide-eyed enthusiasm and hidden fears. A perfect book for those facing Big School in September – and for anyone who likes adventure stories packed with both humour and heart.

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